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What trait would you thank someone for?

Think about it for a moment. If there was something you prized more than anything in a human being, what would it be? I’m sure there’s something in your mind already. What is it? Integrity? Joy? Kindness? Generosity?

What about candor? That quality of openness and honesty, of frankness, in expression. It’s a wonderful word, one that reminds you that being open and honest will not always be pleasant. There are things you may hear when someone is truly open with you. You may learn things that are frightening, or sad. Candor is not always easy. It requires courage from both the speaker and the listener.

Alex Cottingham thanked me for my candor recently.

I’ve seen Alex many times. There was a period where we were both regular attendants at a variety of networking events. For most of the time I attended them, I was in the battle with a deep depression that would actually lead to this blog and a change in my life. But, at others, I was climbing out of it. No matter the case, on any occasion we spoke I found Alex to be a bright spot in the day. There was something joyful and honest in her bearing. She was both interesting and interested.

But our time together never amounted to much more than small talk. I have said it many times, the passing by of others in this world is one of the greatest human tragedies.

One day, as I was finding excuses not to write, I came across a story from Alex on one of the many social media platforms whose names escape me as I age. We all see a lot of these. Usually they play host to a parade of entrees, adult beverages, sunsets, and platitudes we run like our own personal highlight reel.

But Alex’s was different. She talked with great and courageous honesty about harassment she had faced in numerous settings. In no uncertain terms, she shared unacceptable behavior, things she had been through, stories that resonated with me. I wanted to reach out to her and thank her for sharing her stories, for standing up, and to apologize that she had to feel the way she had because of others, to show some compassion for a person who had always smiled at me.

We ended up connecting for a virtual coffee at 8 am on a Monday morning, the very first thing to start a week.

If you’ve never spent time with Alex, you are truly missing an experience. She is incredibly present, truly listening to you rather than waiting for her turn to talk. We share stories. She tells me about times happy and sad, about wanting more depth and honesty than we often make with people in passing, and about chasing a dream she is still defining. We laugh and sip our coffee, waking up just a little more with a joke here and there. I tell her just how close to killing myself I was before I returned to writing, in those same rooms we were in. She doesn’t judge, doesn’t shield herself.

Instead she shows compassion.

We make the full use of an hour, as she tells me about her dreams and her ideas. There is a wonder that exists in Alex’s mind, a vision that she might not even fully see yet, but a light I have seen a few times before. Something about Alex tells me she will change the world, make it better, but we will have to wait to find out how. Maybe it’s her love for people, her search for something true in all of us, her smile, or her stories. I don’t know, but I look forward to learning with the rest of you.

Our time comes to an end, as all good things do, and I find myself in a quandary. How do I describe the person I just spent time with in a way that does her justice? How do I help you see Alex Cottingham as you truly should? I don’t know. So much of our time together, that singular coffee meeting, has touched my heart.

But maybe the most touching part of our Connection happened after our time was done. I often email with people after we meet, to get a picture or let them know that their post had published. Alex and I emailed a couple of times, but there was a line in her second email that made me pause. A line that sums up Alex, and all her wonder as a human being, in a way I don’t think I ever truly could.

“I am so glad that you’re still here.”

We often ponder these larger issues in society, issues of respect, compassion, and dignity for people. They are such charged issues for people, they often lead to long rants of hyperbole. In the time since I have opened up about my battle with depression and suicide I have heard many things.

You know I’m here if you need me…

You’re not alone…

I don’t know what I’d do if anything had happened to you…

In all of the things said, all of the questions asked, rarely did anyone just tell me they were happy I was still here.

I wonder, what do you say about a woman like Alex? Do you talk about the smiles over coffee? About the stories? About the sincerity present from someone who values candor so much? How do you describe a beauty like this?

You don’t.

Alex is someone you have to see, truly see. If all you do is view her, then your eyes are truly closed to what makes her incredible, and you are truly lost, your world a darker place. I find myself looking forward to our next coffee, our next walk, to the next story she shares, and to those moments of wondrous candor. To those moments where we share a cup of coffee and a story.

To those moments where we see each other…

When we’re both glad.

Thank you for your candor, your compassion, and for just being you, Alex.

The world is truly a better place for it.

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